Norfolk’s united front to tackle heritage crime

Norfolk is forming a united front to protect its historic treasures under a new crime-busting initiative.

The national Alliance to Reduce Crime against Heritage (ARCH) has been spearheaded by English Heritage, the crown prosecution service and the police to tackle so-called 'heritage crime.'

For the first time, police, local authorities, charities, farmers and community groups are making a co-ordinated effort to detect and prevent offences such as metal theft and criminal damage, while building a more accurate picture of the growing problem.

The county council is leading the charge here and yesterday became the first organisation in Norfolk to sign the ARCH memorandum of understanding - a pledge to do all it can to protect our heritage gems.

Councillor Bill Barrett, cabinet member for environment and waste, said: 'Norfolk is very rich in its heritage assets and they are an important part of people's quality of life and important to the economy.

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'Thieves and vandals who commit heritage crime steal or damage something that is very precious to us and often utterly irreplaceable - the history of our beautiful county. Not only do their actions scar and damage valuable buildings and places we should treasure, but they also deny this and future generations the opportunity to treasure the places that have shaped Norfolk over the centuries.'

Norfolk has the highest concentration of medieval churches in the world and its official database of heritage sites includes records of 55,000 archaeological sites and finds-pots and 11,000 historic buildings.

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Recent heritage crimes in Norfolk have included illegal metal detecting during night time raids on the ancient Roman town in Billingford, near Diss, and the widespread theft of lead from church roofs.

Existing recording methods mean heritage crime is often not differentiated from other sorts - illegal metal detecting may be recorded as simple trespassing, for example - making an accurate measure of the problem difficult.

Chief Inspector Mark Harrison, who has been seconded to advise English Heritage, said local people were mainly responsible for the damage to historic sites.

'Education is very important,' he said. 'If people know what they have on their doorstep and understand its significance, then the greater likelihood they will care about it and want be involved in looking after it. It may sound utopian, but this is localism in its truest form.'

Other heritage crimes include damaging ancient monuments, spraying graffiti on historic buildings, arson, vandalism, unlawful excavations on archaeological sites and altering or demolishing listed buildings.

The council's historic environment manager, David Gurney, added: 'Heritage crime is often seen as victimless, so we want to highlight the real cost.'

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The ARCH memorandum of understanding was signed at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse, near Dereham, yesterday.

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